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Commission approves retroactive reduction in drug trafficking sentences

July 18, 2014

The United States Sentencing Commission unanimously voted Friday to retroactively apply a reduction in the sentencing guideline levels applicable to most federal trafficking offenders. The change could impact the sentences of more than 46,000 prisoners.

The Sentencing Commission voted in April to amend the guidelines to reduce by two levels the base offense levels in the Drug Quantity Table across drug types. Friday’s vote means that judges can now extend that reduction to current prisoners, but the reduced sentences cannot take effect until Nov. 1, 2015.

No offender would be released unless a judge reviews the case to determine whether a reduced sentence poses a risk to public safety and is otherwise appropriate, the commission says.  

It estimates that 46,290 offenders are now eligible to have their cases reviewed by a judge to determine if their sentences should be reduced. Those eligible for a reduction could have their sentences reduced by an average of 25 months; they would still serve on average 108 months.

The yearlong delay in implementation allows judges more time to consider whether each eligible offender is an appropriate candidate for a sentence reduction, the commission says, and gives the government time to object to any sentence reduction requests.

Congress has until Nov. 1 to disapprove the amendment to reduce drug sentencing guidelines. If Congress lets the guideline reductions stand, courts could then begin considering petitions from prisoners to reduce their sentences.
 

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